The Elements of Love and Hate

In a recent comment, Jennifer Echols mentioned No Plot? No Problem, a how-to manual by Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo.

According to Echols, “He suggests that before you sit down to write a novel, you make a list of everything you love to see in novels. When you write your own novel, you should put the stuff from your list in there. Then you should make a second list of everything you hate to see in novels. When you write your own novel, you should make sure none of the stuff from that second list creeps in when you’re tired.”

Ooh, neat. But looking at that idea from the perspective of a reader, I can generate an equally useful list – for shopping and seeking recommendations.

Here’s my list:

Things I Love:

Characters who are mysterious, who don’t say much, but whose deeds are wonderfully telling and could reveal a character who keeps a great deal of depth hidden. I’m all about the steamy unspoken ardor.

Example: Gleason’s Max from the Gardella Chronicles, who carries a burnt rose in his pocket from when Victoria lit it on fire to try to see in the dungeon where they were trapped. He kept it – and would be mortified if anyone found out that he did and asked him why.

Characters who are genuinely funny, not just in a slapstick way but in a witty, clever, and realistic way.

Book CoverExample: Deirdre Martin’s Power Play, in which a soap opera actress falls for a hockey player. The hockey team’s scenes in particular had me giggling to the point that Hubby wanted to know what was wrong with me.

Plots that are sustained by multiple threads of tension, some large and some small, that don’t line up like links on a chain one after another merely for additional pages. Wait, that’s more of a hate. So let’s go there.

Things I Hate:

Dialogue that is completely unrealistic.

Characters getting angry for no good reason, except to sustain conflict. Flipping out over minor things, getting all icy and disdainful for really stupid shit? GAH. (Harlequin Presents and Helen Brooks, I am LOOKING AT YOU.)

What do you want as a reader? What don’t you want? And as a writer, do you write the plots you love to read?

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Lizzie (greeneyed fem) says:

    Man, it would take a lot more time for me to put together a list. The first thing I thought of, though, is a scene or plot thread where the female protagonist rebels. And I don’t mean a mini-bellion, like snapping at her uncle and then apologizing through gritted teeth. I mean a giant balls-out FUCK YOU to her old life.

    The first two I thought of were The Blue Castle —I re-read the scene when Valancy goes home and her rosebush is blooming and she gathers roses in her arms and then meets her homecoming-queen cousin on the walk over and over and over again. *sigh*

    The other is in a YA novel, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. I love the scene where she cuts off her hair in the hurricane.

  2. 2
    Grace says:

    This is how I finally managed to start writing my first novel (still a work in progress). Instead of getting hung up on things I ought to do, I decided just to write the kind of stuff I always love reading. It makes writing a lot easier and a lot more fun!

  3. 3
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    Let’s see… things I love:
    1.  A satisfying ending, which is not necessarily the same as a HEA, but one that makes me go, “Yeah.  that’s the way it should be.”
    2.  Lots of seemingly unconnected plot threads that all come together in a perfect, surprising package—the best example of this I can think of is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, by the late, great Douglas Adams.
    3.  In first-person narratives, a strong individual voice that draws you into the protagonist’s head—Jim Butcher does a great job of this with Harry Dresden, e.g.
    4.  Characters I want to meet and hang out with.
    5.  Consistent and believable world-building—especially important in SF and fantasy
    6.  Smart, funny, believable dialogue that defines character AND drives the plot

    Things I hate:
    1.  Supposedly bright characters who act like idiots just to further the plot
    2.  Conflict just for the sake of conflict
    3.  Deus ex machinas that come out of nowhere
    4.  Present tense.  I know this is supposed to give a sense of immediacy to a narrative, but for me it’s the literary equivalent of eating about half a pound of chocolate-covered espresso beans.  It makes me jittery and unfocused, and I refuse to read any book that’s written entirely in the present tense, no matter how good it may be.
    5.  Paragraphs that go on and on and on—my eyes need a break at some point, or I start to skim.
    6.  Loathsome or TSTL protagonists that the reader is clearly supposed to like and identify with

    There are probably many more, but that’s all I can come up with for now.

  4. 4
    Julianna says:

    I love characters who are passionate about something – an ideal, a way of life –  and who make you feel that passion.

  5. 5
    Kathsan says:

    This is more a thing I hate than a list, but oh well.  I am not ashamed to say that I am a fan of the Twilight Series, just because it was fun and distracting.  But when I got to the last book, I was disappointed, as were many readers.  The reason:

    The ending was too.  Damn.  Happy.

    Now, I am a devotee of happy endings.  I have been known to imagine my own endings when the real ones aren’t happy enough for me.  But it simply didn’t work here.  Trying not to spoil the book here, but in short there was this setup for a huge, grandiose battle, a la Lord of the Rings—and it didn’t happen.  This can work, but only when written EXTREMELY carefully by the author, and it wasn’t the case here.  I also love Harry Potter, and though the ending of the last book broke my heart, it was REAL.  It was a battle, and good people, characters I loved, died.  It’s a consequence of war.  Shit happens.

    Basically I hate it when there’s all this dramatic setup and then it just fizzles out.  Or jumps off a cliff.  Or whatever.

  6. 6
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    Oh, and here’s one more for my hate list:  overt preaching by an author.  I dislike being beaten over the head with a message, even if it’s one I agree with.

  7. 7
    sid says:

    Hmmm haven’t given this enough thought … but i love it when they there’s some sort of suspence and you’re just sitting there on the edge of your seat hoping that the main character doesn’t come into any harm.

  8. 8
    Midknyt says:

    Kathsan, I am so with you on the Twilight ending.  What the hell was that?  I’m half suprised I didn’t see the sentence “And they all walk happily into the sunset together.  The end.”  Ugh.  If I hadn’t been on a twelve hour flight when the Jacob-narrated section ended, I don’t know if I would have bothered to keep reading anyway.  Of course, that might have to do with wanting to give Bella a good bitch-slap since the end of Twilight. 

    That aside, one thing I like, particularly with the historicals that I gravitate towards, is a strong female character.  She can have her damsel in distress moment, as long as it’s worthy of distress and she kicks some ass herself.  One of my favorites was Kristen in Hearts Aflame – there is not one part in there were she isn’t holding her own, and she even rescues the guy.

    But oh, how I hate a woman who is so weak she doesn’t deserve to live.  There was one, which was one of the worst historicals I’ve read, and I remember the girl got tied up and after the guy saved her he was all “how could they do such a monstrous thing” and she was in pieces because she was tied up.  To a chair.  For maybe five minutes.  The horror!

    This book (which I can’t remember the name, but it was set in the old west) had the worst sex scene ever.  So bad, I committed it to memory from rereading it to make sure that was it.  I guess this would be another one on my list – if you’re not doing erotica, you need to find the balance where the sex is not so much that it takes away from the story, but not so little that it takes away from the story either.

    The sex scene, where she loses her virginity:

    And then she felt him place himself where no one but she had touched before.

    That’s it.  The whole thing, end of the chapter. 

    He didn’t even tie her up to a chair first.  ;)

  9. 9
    DS says:

    Even if characters are heroic archetypes, I want them to be real.  The first time I remember realizing how much better this oculd be than heroic heroism was T. H. White’s retelling of the Arthur legends. 

    I hate it when I read a story that seems to be a mishmosh of plot points from another author.  Anne Stuart’s The Spinster and the Rake, an out of print but highly sought out regency is essentially bits from Heyer novels stitched together with misinformation and anachronisms.  If an author is going to deal with the same themes as another writer it needs to be transformative not imitative.

    Hate, hate, hate heroines who are magic healers—especially if they are noble self sacrificing healers.  Honestly, that is one stereotype I would like to see buried in a very deep hole.

  10. 10
    Ri L. says:

    I love cracks in reality.  I’m rereading my beloved and well-thumbed Rumer Godden collection, which is all about the secret inner lives of dolls, and every so often they will wish and sometimes reach a girl’s heart.  I love when something paranormal or magical happens that’s written in a way where it could almost—almost—happen in real life.

    But I hate when a writer belabors his/her point.  I don’t want to hear the same explanation five times in the same chapter of how troubled a character is and why, for example.  I just took an editing test for a prospective new job wherein I had to edit a chapter that did exactly that—every other sentence re-explained that this character returning home had no friends and was a pariah in his town because he was a soldier from the South who decided to fight for the Union.  GAH.  Show, don’t tell.

    Keyword: able19—I was able to write better than that when I was 19.

  11. 11
    robinjn says:

    I confess I’m a huge sucker for the strong male who reveals much more with his actions than his words. I’m rediscovering Heyer and she’s so often a master at this, especially These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub.

    The movie that epitomizes this for me is Tequila Sunrise, where Mel Gibson so obviously has a huge crush on Michelle Pfeiffer, le sigh…

  12. 12
    Wendy says:

    Hate, hate, hate heroines who are magic healers—especially if they are noble self sacrificing healers.  Honestly, that is one stereotype I would like to see buried in a very deep hole.

    Agree! I heard an interview with a female author who had this exact stereotype in her fantasy series, and the interviewer (a man, by the way) straight out asked if she didn’t think it was just a bit sexist that only female wizards were healers and the author said, well, that’s just the way the world is set up. And I went ‘Gah! You make the world you’re writing in! Don’t let assumptions or stereotypes drive it, make conscious choices.’

    My list: I like great dialogue from realistic characters; I hate plot for page-filling sake (same series as above, actually), too much description, and sad endings just because the writer thinks that’s ‘literary’.

  13. 13
    Ashwinder says:

    I tend to cringe when reading historicals and the heroine starts sounding like a modern feminist.  I realise it’s the author’s attempt to get the reader to identify with the heroine, and also to give her some spunk, but come on. Where does this desire to get out from under the masculine oppression come from if she’s never known anything else? It’s just not believable to me. Make your characters products of their times and yet sympathetic and someone I can still identify with, and I’ll love you!

  14. 14
    ev says:

    Gleason’s Max from the Gardella Chronicles

    I just finished the first book, the Rest Falls Away, and am looking forward to the rest of the books. Now I really am.

    overt preaching by an author.

    Oh god I hate that. Especially, for me, when they beat you with a religious perspective in a story line that otherwise you are enjoying. Patricia Rosemoor’s The Last Vampire comes to mind.

    I love it when the characters are strong and have personalities that don’t depend on someone else- clingy heroines for one, I hate. Go whine somewhere else. Go kick some ass, figuratively or literally, either one. If you are going to cry or scream, make sure it’s for a good reason. Then go kick some ass.

    I hate it when sex taks over the story (are you listening LKH???). If you can’t take out the sex scenes and still have a story, it belongs in another section of the bookstore.

    I love Jim Butcher. I have #1 sitting right here next to me to re-read. I love the voice in the books, the way they are told and bring you into the story. Simon R. Green does it well too. But you need a really strange bend to your mind to enjoy his stuff. I am bent.

    I hate it when a writer goes on and on and on and on to describe something- probably why I could never get throught the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

    My spamword- total 69. hehehehe

  15. 15
    LadyRhian says:

    Things I hate; Characters we are told are smart, but if you weren’t told they are supposedly smart, you’d think they were the offspring of two village idiots from the way they act and live their lives;

    Villains who go from well-nuanced villainy for a reason to sheer unrelenting “kills children and kittens with abandon” batshit crazy within the course of a few pages to a paragraph(!) just because the story needs an OMFG Scary villain to menace the hero/heroine;

    Heroines who “do the stupid” because the author needs to eke out a few additional pages to their magnum opus;

    Keeping romantic heroes and heroines apart because of reasons that would take less than a minute and an actual conversation to clear up in real life. Additionally, getting pissed off over trivial shit because the author needs some way to keep the two apart and build romantic tension;

    Villains who are unashamedly “teh ebbul” and seem to spend their days doing nothing but abusing other people, taking and making slaves, making plans to wipe out their foes or anyone who goes against them, torturing people, killing kittens and small children and whose free time seems to consist of doing things like tripping people for the lulz and taking candy from small babies. They like no one, love no one but themselves and never just rest on their laurels or take an night off to do normal stuff. ie, evil for the sake of evil;

    My absolute worst two hates are: heroine falls in love with her rapist and/or a man treats her badly; and when everyone in the story is lying to the hero (including the heroine) and they end up happily together anyway (I’m looking at your novel “Tempted”, Laurel Ames!)

  16. 16
    KimberlyD says:

    I’m not going to re-list some of the stuff other people have said, because they’ve all said it so much better than I would. But I have a hate to add to the list. I hate when a male character is all broody and silent and angry and tortured all the time (actually, I like that character. The hate part is coming up so bear with me!) but after he falls in love with the heroine, he turns into a happy guy who’s brimming with affection and good cheer. A lot of Sherilyn Kenyon’s heroes do this. The big, bad scary men suddenly turn into lovable teddy bears. Sure, loving a woman can change you and make you nicer. But thats just an unbelievable 180.

  17. 17
    Silver James says:

    My absolute worst two hates are: heroine falls in love with her rapist and/or a man treats her badly; and when everyone in the story is lying to the hero (including the heroine) and they end up happily together anyway

    No shit! I wrote a manuscript where the “hero” raped the heroine (masked in his eyes as “well, her words said no but I knew she really wanted it”). She prosecuted him in the end. I was told it would never get published because there was no HEA. Dude! Depends on the viewpoint. The heroine was ecstatic that he was tried and convicted! That was also 30 years ago. I quit reading romances not long after for all the dislikes cited by previous posters.

    Now that I’m reading them again? Almost all of the above and then specifically –

    Likes:
    A. A good, tight story
    B. Realistic characters and reactions
    C. “Different sex” – this means that if I read the first sex scene, it isn’t repeated all but verbatim later in the book or in subsequent books if a series (I’ll add this to my dislikes)

    Dislikes:
    A. A lazy writer who writes the same book over and over, merely changing the names of the protagonists, and this includes the same, tired old description of the sex. Yes. Writing sex is hard when there are a limited number of positions and descriptions but dude, DON’T COPY THEM VERBATIM! (I’m lookin’ but not pointing fingers)
    B. Pat endings – I enjoy a twist now and again
    C. Stale or stereotypical characters who are perfect – give me some flaws for interest

    As for writing, I try to write a book I’d want to read, tell the story I want to tell. If I wouldn’t want to read it, why would anyone else?

  18. 18
    Lori says:

    Most of my serious dislikes have already been covered, but I’ll add one major pet peeve—-ridiculous dialogue.  The third time I find myself asking, “Who talks like that?” the book hits the wall, no matter how good the plot or characters are otherwise.  I won’t point any fingers, but there are some authors who need to spend a bit of time saying their dialogue out loud and then asking if it sounds like any human beings with whom they’ve ever had actual contact. 

    I also dislike characters, virtually always women, who are supposed to be “quirky” but are actually just insane or very stupid.

  19. 19
    Jan says:

    Excellent discussion and a blog and comments to keep tacked next to the computer and reviewed often while writing! More, more!

  20. 20
    JenTurner says:

    As a writer, and this may sound cheesy, I write whatever suits the characters.  The heroine in my first novel ended up being a homeless drug addict who was far more jaded than the vampire hero she ended up with.  That “concept” broke the traditionally accepted rules of vampires, but I ran with it.

    I think as a writer and reader, a good character (whether you can sympathize with them or not) comes to life when you can invision running into someone like them.  Even if they’re supernatural, if the person/creature has a believable personality and motives, that’s half the battle.

    What I hate – female heriones who are doctors, lawyers, office workers, whatever, who have absolutely no flaws or are so damn morally respectable, I can’t understand them.  Where are the heroines who aren’t nice?  The ones who scream at the asshole in front of them who just cut them off?  The ones who may have a tortured past, but find a way to deal with it and go on living life on their terms?  The ones who are just as likely to walk by someone getting their ass kicked in an alley as they are to run in, pristine morals a-shining, and try to help.

    That’s my beef. :)

  21. 21
    Chris S. says:

    I love when writers recognize that humour is a seasoning, not the whole darn dish.  No real person spends all her time cracking wise;  characters shouldn’t either.

    I truly dislike when characters don’t grow.  No character should be the same in book 3 as she was in book 1.  And if all she’s done is garner new enemies, she hasn’t grown.  Only emo kids and the severely paranoid believe that the world is against them, and that no one understands their (exquisite) pain

    Upthread, Ev praised Jim Butcher’s Dresden series:  I’ll second that.  He’s great at both the funny – Dresden can refrain from the zinger – and he makes allies as well as enemies.  In romance, well, you can’t beat Jenny Crusie, or Laura London.

    Oh Laura London, won’t you please write Cat’s book?  Please, Sharon?  Tom?

  22. 22
    Leslie H says:

    Here is one of my sister’s dislikes that I hadn’t thought about until she mentioned it: Characters with no family whatsoever. Family brings realisim, stress and backstory; but for some reason writers LOVE to kill them off.

    My own: DO NOT EVER Kill the household pets or characters I have invested emotion into. Grievous bodily harm, okay, but not a death as a cheap attmenpt to bring on emotional depth.

  23. 23
    Esri Rose says:

    My favorite thing in the world is when I don’t know where the story is going, but the storyteller clearly knows what s/he is doing. It’s so rare. You’re pretty sure it’s going to end well, but you can’t imagine how they’re going to pull it off. Having said that, it’s AWFUL when they choke and don’t manage it.

    Successful movie example: The Moguls aka The Amateurs (2005), with Jeff Bridges. I could never have predicted the ending, and it was GREAT.

    Fail, fail, fail, movie example: Dan in Real Life (2007). He falls in love with his brother’s girlfriend! His family will never forgive him! And then they all just forgive him, with obligatory punch in the nose. (rolls eyes, mimes shooting self in head) Ugh.

    Oh, and I’m a sucker for a funny ghost. Also dogs who turn out to be people in disguise.

    Bad things: There are far too many to list. God, I’m picky.

  24. 24
    JenB says:

    I want realism. I don’t mean that I want to read about bills and gyno appointments and all the nitty gritty details of everyday life, but I’m tired of romances that pretend real life doesn’t exist. Fantasy and escape are great, but denial gets on my nerves.

    I’m also tired of bad endings. I can’t even tell you how many books I’ve read in which the first 2/3 is absolutely fantastic, but the ending feels like it was slapped on for the sake of the deadline and they all lived happily ever after. The end.

    possible86 – I’m so bitchy it’s possible I could go on and do 86 more of these.

  25. 25
    robinjn says:

    What I hate – female heriones who are doctors, lawyers, office workers, whatever, who have absolutely no flaws or are so damn morally respectable, I can’t understand them.  Where are the heroines who aren’t nice?  The ones who scream at the asshole in front of them who just cut them off?  The ones who may have a tortured past, but find a way to deal with it and go on living life on their terms?  The ones who are just as likely to walk by someone getting their ass kicked in an alley as they are to run in, pristine morals a-shining, and try to help.

    JenTurner, you might really enjoy Lori G. Armstrong’s Julie Collins series, which is wrapping up with the fourth book out tomorrow (le sigh, I will really miss Julie!)

    Julie is so flawed that I was really put off by her at first. She smokes, she drinks, she makes bad choices. It’s more mystery/thriller than romance but it has romantic elements and the characters are so real they make your teeth hurt.

  26. 26
    Lissa says:

    A perfect heroine will turn me off a book – regardless of the rest of the story.  When she is so beautiful, but doesn’t know it, so talented, but so humble about her talent, when all children and dogs adore her and vice versa, when she has the very best friends who tell each other everything, when she has the perfect tiny body with perfect, perky boobs…….YUCK.

    Give me a heroine who is a person.  Pretty people know they are pretty – be aware of it, but don’t use it.  Not all children and dogs are likeable either.  I want a real character that I can relate too.  That perfect paragon is not someone I would like in real life, or someone I want to read about.

    I agree too – with the re-using of a storyline.  I just finished a book by an author that I have adored for nearly 30 years.  I don’t think I have ever been as disappointed in a book.  The re-use of points in this story, kept pulling me out of it, so as to figure out which of her other books this plotline was from.  The originals were much better.

  27. 27
    Sheila says:

    Right now I’m critiquing twenty stories for my creative writing class in college.  Lest this lead anyone to believe I am a cute nubile 19 year old, let me disillusion you.

    I’m 37 years old and only 1 1/2 years into a degree plan that will take me at least 7 to complete part time. ;-p

    .

    As I was slogging through all these stories, a lot of times I was cringing at the dialogue, the ‘tell not show’ problems, the lack of setting, lack of plot, lack of conflict…lack of grammar. (That one is really painful for me.)

    To take a break I got out my brand new book I’d bought as a treat.  The shiny new Diana Palmer.

    OH My God! 

    I wanted to start scribbling on the pages. “Show me, don’t tell me.”  That is completely abnormal for me.

    I think my Creative writing class may have ruined me for some of my sillier novels. 

    Love:
    Books where everything has context of some sort.
    Silly is not the defining characteristic of the hero/heroine.
    Humor isn’t slapstick.
    Real life intrudes on romance because hey, when doesn’t it?

    Hate:
    Solutions appearing out of nowhere.
    Telling me stuff I should be able to infer.
    Mysteries I can solve one chapter into the book.
    Using 20th century slang in 18th century settings.
    No reality whatsoever.  As in this is so totally implausible I have to put the book away carefully so I don’t throw it. (Hubby is librarian and he frowns on mistreating even stupid books.)

    Just my 2 cents worth…actually this is so long it might be worth a whole nickel

  28. 28
    Suze says:

    I dislike being beaten over the head with a message, even if it’s one I agree with.

    Oh my freaking gods, yes!  And interpreting for the idiot reader what you just wrote.  Sharon Green wrote a fantasy double-series called The Blending, and for every sentence she wrote, she’d write another (immediately following) starting with “That means…”  Gah!

    What I like in a book (or any kind of art, really) is emotional authenticity.  A character can behave however s/he wants to, but it has to feel true to the character.

    So you can’t just say your heroine is spunky, brave, and quirky, you have to show her being that way.  And if you don’t know how that kind of behaviour appears, then DON’T write a spunky, brave, and quirky heroine.  If you don’t know what confident, alpha male behaviour looks like, don’t try to write that kind of hero.  Argh.  Do a little observation first.

    This is actually a pretty good idea.  I’ll have to devote some time to coming up with coherent lists.

  29. 29
    Zisu says:

    Here is a really tiny pet peeve:  I do not like when two important characters in a book have similar names.  I guess once the names are established in my mind, I skim over them.  So if their names are close (like Lord Randall and Lord Radcliffe or Michelle and Melissa), I have to work a little harder.  Waah f*in’ waah, I know.

    Another, bigger no-no for me is when a character (usually the heroine) has unfaltering loyalty toward some sibling/cousin/friend who treats her like absolute shiite, and all the conflict stems from the stupid acts she does on behalf of this asshat.  Consistently bad judgment = major character flaw…period.

    I love when the hero does something stupid (but not horrific) and then is truly remorseful and begs for forgiveness.  Hmm….should I see a therapist for this?  :-)

  30. 30
    JenTurner says:

    JenTurner, you might really enjoy Lori G. Armstrong’s Julie Collins series, which is wrapping up with the fourth book out tomorrow (le sigh, I will really miss Julie!)

    Thanks for the suggestion, robinjn.  I’ll have to give the series a look see. :)

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